A recent article in the Globe and Mail states “We should have declared war on the sandwich.” This isn’t another attack on carbs… they are referring to sodium intake. A recent report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found bread and cold cuts/cured meats (don’t forget about the nitrates in the processed meats as well) were the top contributors of sodium to the average American’s diet! (1)
Although the report comes from the U.S. and provides U.S. data, Canada is no better – average sodium intakes are approximately 3,400 mg/d (2) – a far cry from the recommended amount of 1500 mg/d and well above the maximum upper limit of 2300 mg/d. Health Canada also reports intakes by age and gender .
That people consume too much sodium is not shocking news. Furthermore, that excess sodium is associated to a greater or lesser degree with many chronic diseases including hypertension, stomach cancer, osteoporosis and obesity is also fairly well known (2). Why the post then? The majority of the 10 top sources of sodium were foods that people might not inherently assume are high in sodium. Who would have guessed that poultry would rank 4th and savoury snacks like potato chips and pretzels 10th? How can you be a savvy consumer and a healthy eater?
Tip #1. Know the common sources of sodium in the typical diet
The top 10 sources of sodium in the average person’s diet* (1):
- Bread and rolls (7.4%)
- Cold cuts and cured meats (5.1%)
- Pizza (4.9%)
- Fresh (can be injected with sodium) and processed poultry (4.5%)
- Soups (4.3%)
- Cheeseburgers and other prepared sandwiches (4.0%)
- Cheese (3.8%)
- Mixed pasta dishes (3.3%)
- Mixed meat dishes (3.2%)
- Savoury snacks (chips, pretzels and popcorn) (3.1%)
*based on 24 hour recall dietary recalls in 7,227 Americans from 2007-2008
It’s important to note that sometimes even a lower sodium food can contribute significant amounts of sodium to your diet if you eat enough of it! That explains why some of these foods rank higher than others even though gram-per-gram they have less sodium.
Not surprisingly 65% of sodium came from foods purchased in store (often processed) and 25% from restaurant meals (1). People are often told to that eating at home will reduce their sodium intakes and certainly this is the case – IF you are preparing fresh foods! Throwing a frozen pizza pocket in the oven, that’s a different story…
Tip #2. Watch out for “healthy impostors”
No Baloney went undercover to expose a few high sodium foods in disguise. Here’s what we found:
- Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice Chicken Flavoured Whole Grain Brown – They advertise a full daily requirement of whole grains and 100% natural flavor on the front but read the label and you’ll find 710 mg sodium per 1 cup serving.
- All Bran – Bran Flakes – On the front in a large yellow banner “#1 Source of Fibre” unfortunately 240 mg sodium in 1 cup too.
- A fruit-flavoured drink mix powder could advertise 0 g of sugar but have as much as 682 mg sodium.
- Kraft Zesty Italian Calorie-Wise – It may be “calorie-wise” with only 5 kcal/serving but there is 230 mg of sodium in 1 tablespoon. Compare this to the original with 30 kcal/serving but only 150 mg of sodium per tablespoon. Watch out for low-fat products as they often bump up the salt to compensate for removing those tasty, high-fat ingredients.
- V8 Vegetable Juice High Fibre – It may be vegetables, it may have 20% of your daily fibre requirement, BUT there are still 480 mg of sodium per 8 oz (1 cup) serving.
- Canned chick peas – Great if you have the no sodium version (60 mg of sodium per cup) but the standard salted version has 340 mg per cup.
- PC Blue Menu Lentil and Bean Vegetarian Patty – Categorized as healthy living and low fat but 490 mg sodium per patty!
These are just a few examples but you get the idea. Feel free to share if you have others in the comment section…..
Tip # 3. Focus on the whole food not a single nutrient
We also want to stress that although reducing sodium can improve your diet quality, one should not focus only on the sodium and be oblivious of the other nutrients. The most current research suggests that the sodium-disease association is exacerbated by low potassium intake.
Potassium is found in fresh fruits and vegetables; therefore, simply choosing low sodium, yet still processed foods instead of fresh foods will not have the same health benefits. This is particularly apparent with Front of Label advertising. Here a company can advertise one healthy feature of their product (as shown in the examples above) and hide all of the unhealthy aspects in the teeny-tiny food label on the side! Again we can’t stress enough how important it is to read the label and take a holistic approach to the nutrient content.
Read the labels and eat fresh whenever you can. That’s it!
Oh, we almost forgot! There was a Canadian Sodium Reduction Working Group – no real progress to report since 2007 AND they have recently been disbanded and replaced with a group tied to the food industry. I’m sure that will help speed up sodium reduction!
(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC Grand Rounds: Dietary Sodium Reduction – Time for Choice. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2012 Feb 10;61:89-91.
(2) Campbell NR, Willis KJ, L’abbe M, Strang R, Young E. Canadian initiatives to prevent hypertension by reducing dietary sodium. Nutrients 2011 Aug;3(8):756-764.